The Oregon Coast Aquarium will be all smiles this Memorial Day Weekend as it unveils its newest exhibit, Big Bites, which showcases creatures with feeding adaptations that are truly cutting edge. The toothsome fishes of Big Bites will give visitors plenty of fascinating natural history to chew over, said Jim Burke, Director of Animal Husbandry at the Aquarium.
“Some secure their prey in the blink of an eye, with dagger-like teeth, while others take the concept of ‘roughage’ to a new level and make meals out of hard coral,” Burke explained. “There are species that shear flesh with sharp, serrated teeth, and others that use flat, broad teeth to crush the shells of mollusks and crustaceans.”
The uniquely arranged jaws and teeth of fishes featured in Big Bites allow them to carve niches for themselves in their respective environments. For many of these species, form follows function—what (and how) these creatures eat has shaped their appearance, sometimes drastically. Aquarium enthusiasts will likely recognize some of these renowned “big biters”.
“As visitors travel beyond our Secrets of Shipwrecks gallery, they will come face to face with captivating animals such as porcupinefish, parrotfish and piranhas,” said Evonne Mochon-Collura, Curator of Fishes and Invertebrates at the Aquarium. “The new gallery transports guests into tropical saltwater environments such as Australian coral reefs and warm pockets of the Amazon Basin, where the waters are calm but mealtime is anything but!”
In addition to the infamously voracious piranha, guests will meet the Goliath Tigerfish, a denizen of the Congo River Basin in Africa. Goliath Tigerfish are lightning-fast hunters that lie in wait for prey to swim past, subduing them with huge, dagger-like teeth.
Porcupinefish take a different approach, essentially swapping the steak knife for a crab mallet. Inside their beak-like mouth, the teeth of porcupinefish are fused into a “dental plate” that allows these googly-eyed fishes to crush shelled prey such as snails, urchins and hermit crabs.
The Aquarium is incorporating two new tank shapes into the exhibit so visitors can view fish from a novel perspective. An all-time favorite design allows guests to crawl inside not one but two tanks and “pop up” into the exhibits.
“In these new tanks, our aquarists have created habitats that not only support the biological needs of the new animals but are visually attractive, and their attention to detail yields beautiful results,” Mochon-Collura added. Visitors will notice the teal-colored mouth of a parrotfish as it grazes through the architecture of a simulated coral reef. They can peer among the branches of Malaysian bogwood, their stares reciprocated by fish equipped with menacing teeth and a crocodile’s smile.
Starting May 29, the Aquarium will be open every day this summer from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Visit aquarium.org or call 541-867-FISH for more information or to purchase advance tickets.
Information and photos provided by the Oregon Coast Aquarium